Traditionally, robot manipulators have been a simple arrangement of a small number of serially connected links and actuated joints. Though these manipulators prove to be very effective for many tasks, they are not without their limitations, due mainly to their lack of maneuverability or total degrees of freedom. Continuum style (i.e., continuous "back-bone") robots, on the other hand, exhibit a wide range of maneuverability, and can have a large number of degrees of freedom. The motion of continuum style robots is generated through the bending of the robot over a given section; unlike traditional robots where the motion occurs in discrete locations, i.e., joints. The motion of continuum manipulators is often compared to that of biological manipulators such as trunks and tentacles. These continuum style robots can achieve motions that could only be obtainable by a conventionally designed robot with many more degrees of freedom. In this paper we present a detailed formulation and explanation of a novel kinematic model for continuum style robots. The design, construction, and implementation of our continuum style robot called the elephant trunk manipulator is presented. Experimental results are then provided to verify the legitimacy of our model when applied to our physical manipulator. We also provide a set of obstacle avoidance experiments that help to exhibit the practical implementation of both our manipulator and our kinematic model.
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